The Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness - Mindfulness Of Objects of Mind - Part 3


Thich Nhat Hanh


Dharma Talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh on February 26, 1998  in Plum Village, France.


Today is the 26th of February, 1998. We’re in the new Hamlet, in the Winter Retreat. Today is the last dharma talk of this retreat, and after that we will be lazy for twelve, thirteen, or fourteen days. We will meet again on Thursday the 12th of March, and we will continue with the teachings of the Winter Retreat, which was called, "The Retreat on the Opening of the Lotus with a Thousand Petals". We will call the Spring Retreat the same.

When we practice looking deeply in order to offer guidance to another practitioner we need time, because our practice of this is not yet solid. As we continue to practice we shall improve, and our practice of offering guidance will be very good. When we sit at ease and we offer guidance to a brother or a sister, at the same time we are shining light on ourselves. As we offer guidance we need to be aware that the person to whom we are offering guidance is our sister or brother. We have to give all our love in order to practise that kind of offering guidance. We have to learn, because we are not good at it yet. We are just learning how to do it, we have only been learning for a couple of years. The more we practice the better we do it. We know that tomorrow we have the Pavarana ceremony and we will practise it according to the ancient tradition. We touch the earth before a monk or a nun, and we ask them to shine light (on our practice). In this ceremony we will not be able to go deeply into guiding each other as we might on another occasion. We continue to practise this ceremony as a way of continuing the outer form of the practice given to us by the Buddha. The Invitation Ceremony is a very important practice for us to do but it will not give us an opportunity to go deeply into our deep looking before offering guidance. So we will have to use another opportunity to do it more deeply, and it will help us all. If we can practice offering guidance for a year, then we will be good at shining light on others, and our own person will make progress because we will be shining light on ourselves at the same time.

Today we are going to learn more about the Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness. We are talking about mindfulness of the objects of mind in the objects of mind. First of all there are the objects of mind that I talked about in regard to the Five Hindrances, nivarana (Skt.), the Five Aggregates, the Twelve Ayatanas and the Seven Factors of Awakening. In the Agama of the Chinese canon, there are the five nivaranas, the Five Aggregates and the Seven Factors of Awakening. And in another sutra in the Chinese canon it just talks about the Seven Factors of Awakening as objects of mind.

We know that the objects of mind are also called dharmas, the objects of our perception. Dharma here also means the teaching of the Buddha. The Seven Factors of Enlightenment, the Four Noble Truths, and the teachings of the Buddha are objects of mind, it is true; but in fact, "observing dharmas in dharmas means observing objects of mind. Thus the objects of mind are above all the objects of perception, that is, the Five Aggregates and the twelve ayatanas, which are the six organs of sense and the six objects of our senses. We know that the Seven Factors of Enlightenment have been added because the monks who transmitted this sutra thought that we should have some teachings of the Buddha in here. This is not an obstacle. But we should remember that dharmas here means the reality, the objects of our mind, not the teachings of the Buddha, such as the Seven Factors of Awakening, the Four Noble Truths, and the Noble Eight-fold Path.

In the Pali version, objects of mind are first of all the Five Obstacles, which we studied last Sunday, and then the Five Aggregates, the twelve Ayatanas (the six organs of sense and the six objects of sense) the Seven Factors of Awakening, and finally the Four Noble Truths. Therefore, following the way of looking which we have had from the beginning, the objects of mind are in fact authentically the Five Aggregates, and the twelve Ayatanas. The obstacles also lie within these things. The Seven Factors of Awakening and the Four Noble Truths are teachings of the Buddha. Therefore the center of our observations here is the Five Aggregates and the Four Establishments of Mindfulness. The version we are studying here is taken from the Majjhima Nikaya and the Digha Nikaya. There is also another version, almost identical, except that it has been further developed, especially concerning the Four Noble Truths, which are spoken about at great length. Here they are only spoken about briefly. Therefore we see that the tendency to add more things is developed in the transmission of the sutras. So as far as I am concerned the real objects of mind are just the Five Aggregates and the twelve Ayatanas. And after that, the monks who were transmitting the sutra thought they would add some more things: the Five Obstacles, the Seven Factors of Awakening, and the Four Noble Truths. It doesn’t do any harm, it just makes the sutra longer. In the Digha Nikaya, the Four Noble Truths are developed even more. So let’s call this Version One.

And here is Version Two. This is the version in the Madhyama Agama in Chinese. It talks about only the Five Obstacles, the Twelve Ayatanas, and the Seven Factors of Awakening, and nothing about the Five Aggregates and the Four Noble Truths. We know that this version belongs to theSarvastivada. The Third Version belongs to the Mahasanghika school. It does not talk about the Five Obstacles. They have already been addressed in an earlier part of the sutra. It also does not talk about the Five Aggregates or the Twelve Ayatanas, it only talks about the Seven Factors of Awakening.

In the First Version we see that the objects of mind are presented as the Five Obstacles and then as the Five Aggregates: form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness. This is how it talks about the Five Aggregates: Such is form, such is the arising of form, such is the disappearance of form. (Form in Sanskrit is rupa.) Such is feeling, such is the arising of feeling, such is the disappearance of feeling. So there is nothing very special, just: here is the form, here is the feeling, here is the perception, here is the end of that form, here is the end of that feeling, here is the end of that perception. So that is the content of the five skandhas. There is nothing very special about that. And then there are the Twelve Ayatanas, the six sense organs and the six sense objects: here are the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind. This is the arising of eyes, the arising of ears, this is the disappearance of eyes, the disappearance of ears, etc. We see in the field of these Twelve Ayatanas there is nothing very special, there’s just recognizing the Twelve Ayatanas. After that there are the Seven Factors of Awakening: "When the factor of awakening called mindfulness is present in the practitioner, he is aware that mindfulness is present. When mindfulness is not present, he is aware mindfulness is not present. He is aware when not yet born mindfulness is being born, and when already born mindfulness is perfectly developed." He is aware when mindfulness is present. When mindfulness is not present, he is aware mindfulness is not present. When am I am not mindful, and I am aware that I am not mindful, then I am mindful already. This approach is used for all the other factors of awakening: investigation of dharmas, energy, joy, ease, concentration, and letting go. Then he meditates on the Four Noble Truths: He is aware this is suffering as it arises, this is the cause of suffering as it arises, this is the end of suffering as it arises, this is the path which leads to the end of suffering as it arises.

These are the Four Noble Truths: suffering, the making of suffering, the end of suffering, and the path which leads to the end of suffering. Then there is the concluding paragraph, which is just the same as the concluding paragraph in observation of the objects of mind in the objects of mind with regard to the Four Noble Truths: Observation of the objects of mind from inside the objects of mind or outside the objects of mind, or observation of the objects of mind from both the inside and the outside. He remains established in the observation of the process of coming-to-be in the objects of mind, or the process of dissolution in the objects of mind, or both in the process of coming-to-be and the process of dissolution. Or he is mindful of the fact, ‘There is an object of mind here,’ until understanding and full awareness come about. He remains established in the observation, free, not caught up in any worldly consideration. That is how to practice the observation of the objects of mind in the objects of mind. The version which we have in the new Chanting Book is a shortened version. We didn’t want it to be too long, but all the ideas, all the phrases of the sutra which are necessary are present in this version. We have taken out only the repetitions. Therefore, in this sutra there is nothing missing as far as the ideas are concerned.

Now we use the light of the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing to shine light on this section. And we see that the sutra, as it relates to the observation of the objects of mind in the objects of mind, is very clear. "I am breathing in and I can see and look deeply into the impermanent nature of all dharmas. I am breathing out and I can see the impermanent nature of all dharmas." This is taken from the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing. These are the thirteenth and fourteenth exercises in that sutra. "I am breathing in and I am looking deeply at the non-desirable nature of all dharmas. I am breathing out and I am looking at the undesirable nature of all dharmas". It means that things are not worth our being attached to them, or running after them. It is because we have a wrong perception about things that we run after them. When we can see the real nature of these things we will not run after them; this is the non-desirable nature of dharmas. With the fifteenth breathing: "Breathing in I can see the cessation of all dharmas, the nirvana nature, the nirodha nature of all dharmas. I am breathing out and I am able to see the nirvana nature of all dharmas". That is the nature of not being born and not dying, not coming and not going, not many and not one, not increasing and not decreasing. This is the character, the nature of reality. This sixteenth breathing: "I am breathing in and I am letting go of all ideas I have concerning reality. I am breathing out and I am letting go of all ideas I have about reality". hat is called letting go. Because of these four breathings in the Sutra on the Mindfulness of Breathing, we can understand the section on looking deeply into objects of mind in objects of mind in the Satipatthana Sutra.

Why do we look into dharmas? It is to see the reality of things as they are. We have wrong perceptions concerning reality, and therefore in our perceptions we cannot see impermanence, nondesirability, cessation, and letting go with regard to all objects of mind. The word perception here is important (samjnana). Because of these wrong perceptions we are not able to see the real nature of reality, and therefore we are caught in reality and we suffer because of that. When we see the true faces of all objects of mind then we are able to let go. We should know that here cessation, or nirvana, nirodha, is the true nature, the true face of reality as it truly is. That is what nirvana is. Nirvana is reality which goes beyond ideas of birth and death, exists and does not exist, is still there and has gone away, comes and goes. That is the birthless, deathless reality which we are not able to realize because we have wrong perceptions. When we have laid aside our wrong perceptions we are able to realize nirvana, that is, the true face of reality. If we want to come to the real face of reality we have to get rid of our wrong perceptions of birth and death, or of ourself independent of other things which are not ourself. Therefore the aim of these last four breathings is the same as in the last section of the Satipatthana Sutra: to uproot our wrong perception, our afflictions. We uproot our afflictions by seeing the true nature of reality. That is the aim of observing objects of mind in objects of mind.

When we look at this piece of wood we have a perception concerning this piece of wood. This piece of wood is itself, and we do not really know what it's nature is. We just have an idea about this piece of wood, we only have an idea. Our perception of this piece of wood and this piece of wood itself, are very different from each other. Just as we have an idea of an atom, or we have a perception, an idea, about an atom. Our perception, our idea about an atom, can be very, very far from the real nature of the atom, because our idea contains a lot of wrong perceptions. The true nature of the atom is very different from our perception of the atom. Only when we practice looking deeply does this division between our idea and the reality disappear. Then there is only insight, there is only wisdom, which shows us the thing as it really is. When there is no more perception, then there is wisdom. When we have realized wisdom, we have put aside all our ideas and we are in touch with the real world, and all our afflictions such as attachment, craving, anger and despair are uprooted. Therefore we are free persons with much happiness.

An atom, for example, we see it as something very small. Now we talk about a grain of dust. We are looking at a grain of dust lying on the table, with no life in it. This piece of wood is the same. We say it is a piece of matter, something which has no space in it, but in fact it is full of space. The different atoms of the grain of dust and the atoms of the piece of wood each have a nucleus and there is energy flowing around this nucleus which we cannot see. We think that these atoms are just lying there without life in them. But our idea about these atoms in this piece of wood is very wrong. Physics tells us that our ideas and perceptions about things are completely wrong.

When looking at the sun setting we have the idea that the sun which is setting is the real sun. But in fact our idea of the sun is very different from the reality we see as a ball of fire. We don’t see the waves of fire in the sun, just as we cannot see the waves on the ocean from afar. Sometimes there are waves of fire in the sun which are hundreds of kilometers high. Our idea of the sun is very different from the reality of the sun. Just as our ideas about a grain of dust are very different from the grain of dust, and our perceptions of the sun are wrong perceptions, our idea of the sun is a wrong idea and we live our whole lives with these wrong ideas. That is why we suffer. Our suffering is so great because of our wrong perceptions. So we have to look at the dharmas in the dharmas and then we will see their true nature, and our wrong perceptions concerning them will dissolve. At that point our afflictions will be uprooted. Therefore the Buddha taught that all of our suffering comes from ignorance. Ignorance is the inability to see the reality of things as they are.

There is something which we should know in the Third Version of the Satipatthana Sutra. Although it only talks about the Seven Factors of Awakening as objects of mind, in the third version there is still the basis which we see in the Anapanasati Sutra. Therefore the comparative study of different sutras is very important. When the practitioner practises the first factor of awakening, mindfulness, he relies on the initial application of thought in destroying the unwholesome mind and abandoning the unwholesome dharmas. When he practices the other six factors of awakening: investigation of dharmas, energy, joy, ease, concentration and letting go, he also relies on applied thought, and relies on no craving. So when we come to this part, we don’t need to study much anymore. We just need to revise it. First of all, as far as the Five Aggregates and the Twelve Ayatanas are concerned (as form, feelings, perceptions, eyes, ears, nose, etc.), we have to look at them and see their non-permanent nature. Once we see their impermanent nature we begin to see the no-self nature, then we see the interdependent nature, and once we see the interdependent nature, we see the Buddha. Because the Buddha said: "The person who sees interdependent arising is the person who can see me."

We look into a flower and we see the flower is made of the sky, the clouds, the earth, space and time. And when we see that, we see the Buddha. We see ourselves, and we see we are made of our teacher, our father, our mother, our ancestors, our brothers, sisters, our vegetables, water, and all those things. When we see them in the light of interdependence, we see the Buddha. We see that we do not have a separate self. Therefore, we do not have permanence. When we see our interdependence we see interbeing, the empty nature that is the emptiness of a reality which is separate, and when we can see the basis of our reality, we see clearly that these aspects of reality are not the same as our wrong perceptions. Therefore our wrong perceptions disappear. We are no longer attached to things, we are no longer caught in things.

Suppose we are thirsty, and we see a pink glass of liquid. We are very thirsty and we want to drink it. People say: "Don’t drink that, it’s a very dangerous thing, it’s not good water, you will get sick if you drink that water." But we aren’t able to see why we should get sick from drinking this water, why this water will not relieve our thirst, but make us suffer. The other person has seen clearly that there has been poison put in this water, and they have seen people drink this water already, and that they have writhed around on the floor and died. And we hear that, but we have not seen those things. So we have to look deeply in order to see that this water has poison in it, and if we drink it we will die. Once we see that clearly, then we can let go of our desire to drink that water. If not, we will say, "Oh, this is good water, why can’t we drink it?" That is because we do not see the true nature of the water. The five objects of desire are the same; they make us suffer, they make us come into misfortune, they can lead us to death. So, it’s not enough to forbid ourselves to touch these things. We have to see their true nature and then we won’t want to touch them. So once we have seen impermanence, no-self, interbeing, then quite naturally we see the nondesirable nature of things; it’s not worth being attached to them. Then we can practice dwelling peacefully and happily in the present moment and not run after objects of desire.

Nirvana is to see that all things are not born and do not die. They are not existing and they are not non-existing. When we look into reality with the wrong perceptions that we have, we see birth and we see death, we see that things are or are not, and these ideas make us afraid because we desire them. Then we suffer because of our fear and our desiring. And now we look into all objects of mind, and we see that they are not born and they do not die. They do not really exist and they do not really not exist. They go beyond ideas of birth and death, existing and not existing. If we do not look deeply, we will see: "That is born, that dies, that really exists, that really doesn’t exist." But when we look deeply we see they dwell in nirvana, they are not really born, they do not really die; they just manifest and then lie latent. We have wrong ideas of birth and death, come and go; and we suffer because we have those ideas. Therefore, nirvana, when we understand it, is going beyond birth and death. If we have not truly understood the meaning of birth and death we will not really understand nirvana. Actually, what it means is not that we go beyond birth and death, but that we go beyond ideas of birth and death. Everything lies in nirvana. The plum blossom lies in nirvana, the cloud lies in nirvana. Its real nature is not born, does not die, is not existing, is not not-existing. In English we can say everything has been ‘nirvanized’ since the very beginning. Therefore we hear it said that nirvana, birth and death, are like the flowers we see in front of our eyes when our eyesight is not good. When we are deeply in touch with reality we see that even though this flower is very fragile it is not born and it does not die.


All dharmas, all objects of mind, from time immemorial, have as their nature, their true face, to dwell permanently in nirvana. They don’t need to enter into nirvana. Nirvana isn’t something that lies in space, that we can come to, have to wait for. Everything dwells in nirvana already. All things, from beginningless time, have always lain in nirvana. The True Nature of everything is nirvana already. So when we are looking for nirvana, when we say that we will enter nirvana, that means we do not know how to use the word nirvana. We think that nirvana is something in space or time, that we will be able to step into, but in our true nature we are nirvana already. Nirvana is the absence of all ideas, the absence of the idea: "exists" or does not exist, born or dies. We also have the phrase "All dharmas are without birth. All dharmas are without death." You are able to understand this. The Buddhas are always there before you, if you are able to see that all dharmas are without birth and without death.

In the beginning we hear the Buddha say, "Whoever can see the interdependent nature of things can see me. That person can see the Tathagata." But what is meant by interdependent origination? Go deep into it and you will see it is also nirvana. It is the coming together of so many causes and conditions in order to manifest as something, and when causes and conditions are not sufficient, then that thing has to lie latent. So all there is is the manifestation and the latency. There isn’t such a thing as birth and death. It is just the matter of appearing or failing to appear, not the matter of birth and death. And once you can see that, you can see interdependence, and at the same time you see no-birth and no-death. That is why the term "mere manifestation" used in Buddhist psychology is so useful, because it shows us that ideas of birth and death are wrong ideas. "Exists" and "does not exist" are wrong ideas. Therefore Nirvana, the reality and basis of things, means letting go of ideas: ideas about myself, ideas about my lifespan of sixty, seventy or eighty years, the idea that before that I did not exist, and then I existed, and then again I won’t exist. These are all ideas. In the Lotus Sutra it says that the lifespan of the Buddha is limitless. And when we look deeply we see that the life-span of a leaf is also limitless, and our own life-span is also limitless because we are objects of mind, and our basis is without birth, without death, without existence and without non-existence. When we see that, all our fears dissolve. Therefore, letting go is a practice. To let go is to let go of ideas, to let go of wrong perceptions. Our spiritual ancestor, Master Tang Hoi, used the word "phong-khi"….in talking about letting go. It means letting go. First of all, let go of the idea that "I am this body." Then let go of the idea that your life is only eighty or ninety years. That is to let go of the idea of lifespan.

In the Vajracchedika Sutra the Buddha tells us to let go of self, person, living being and lifespan. All other ideas rely on these four basic ideas and we have to let go of all of them as well. Therefore the last section of the sutra, this method of looking deeply at dharmas in dharmas, is to be able to discover the basis of reality, the nature of reality, the nondesirable, the impermanent, the nirvana nature of reality. When we have discovered that we can let go of all our wrong perceptions of reality, and then we are free persons. We will no longer suffer. And that is the highest point of practice.

The monks who transmitted this sutra added things like the Seven Factors of Awakening and the Five Obstacles. It isn’t really harmful, but it does mean that the real meaning of the sutra is somewhat hidden by these other things being brought in. The last part of the sutra reads: " He who practices the Four Establishments of Mindfulness for seven years can expect one of two fruits, the highest understanding in this very life, or if there remains some residue of affliction, he can attain the fruit of no return." Practising for seven years you can arrive. Let alone seven years bhikkhus, whoever practices the Four Establishments of Mindfulness for six, five, four, three, two years, or one year, or even six, five, four, three, two months, one month or half a month can also expect one of two fruits: either the highest understanding or the fruit of no return. So seven years is time, but people who have great willingness to practice don't need seven years, it is enough to have half a month. That is why we said that this path, the path of the Four Grounds of the Establishment of Mindfulness, is the most wonderful path, which helps beings realize purification, transcend grief and sorrow, and destroy pain and anxiety. The Bhikkhus were delighted to hear the teaching of the Buddha. They took it to heart and began to put it into practice.

We have a great fortune to be able to study the two sutras, the Anapanasati and the Satipatthana. These two sutras are the basis. These are sutras you keep under your pillow, always with you. It is very regrettable that some meditation practice centers do not allow these sutras to be studied. All places of practice should have these sutras. These sutras go together. Each shines light on the other, and they also show us how the monks and nuns and lay people practised during the time of the Buddha. In the time of the Buddha many people learned these sutras by heart. In the southern tradition, in the Theravada school, the monks still learn these two sutras by heart.

We have one more thing to learn concerning the morning liturgy of Wednesday, we will talk about The Transition Chant ("We are truly present") when we next meet on Thursday the twelfth.

I am now going to read the introductory words of a meditation master, concerning a sesshin in the Chinese tradition. Sometimes this lasts for 21 days. The way of practice in this tradition is to practice with koan or with meditation words. So compared with our sort of retreat it’s very different. I only have to read the introductory words, which are used when the retreat begins, for you to see the difference.

"This kind of Practice is called "the practice with all our self," to practice all the way. So it means we sit, and we sit with all our being." This retreat was practiced in the Cam Hung temple in Zhao, in China, and the master who was in charge was called Li Chu. He passed away in 1942. For meditation the meditation words (koan) were: "Who is the person reciting the name of the Buddha? Find that person." That was the subject of the retreat: "Who is the one who is reciting the name of the Buddha? Who is the one who is practicing sitting meditation?" This retreat began on the fifteenth of the tenth month, and ended on the twenty-seventh of the twelfth month. It’s also a sort of winter retreat. This retreat lasted for seven contiguous weeks in 1942.

Many people had to prepare for the retreat when many monks would come to practice. There was much busyness in preparation. When we read this we hear about the spirit of the practice which was very serious. "Today the temple has opened for the retreat, and therefore people are very busy, and outside the temple there are many people who are very, very busy. And this means that not only the people are busy, but all the dharmapalas and other species are also very busy." Are we busy before we begin the summer retreat? And the winter retreat? Yes, we are busy, but although we are busy we have the practice called dwelling peacefully and happily in the present moment, so our preparation is also a time of enjoyment. We are taught that we have to dwell in the present moment, and although we have many things to do when we organize a retreat, our busyness at that time is different from the busyness of other people. And the master says that, "not only the people in the temple are busy, but also the bodhisattvas and the Buddhas and the dharmapalas are also busy."

"So why should we make so many people busy? Actually the other species, like the dharmapalas, are even busier than we are. Do you understand what it means to have a retreat like this? Now you have heard how all the Buddhas, the dharmapalas and the bodhisattvas are very busy on our behalf. And you who have come here to practice during this retreat, you are always busy, but now you should work even harder. You should be even busier during this retreat. So you should understand that all the ancient monks of ancient times, they also practiced like this.

The matter of birth and death lies in our hands. Your body, your feelings and your mind lie in your own hands. From now on you don’t have to do anything during the retreat. It’s not important to join your palms or bow your head to each other. The only thing you have to do is meditate on the koan. You don’t have to ask each other anything. You don’t even have to light incense. You don’t even have to prostrate. These things are not important. The only important thing is to grasp the koan. And you don’t have to join your palms in front of the head of practice or in front of the monk or who leads the ceremonies. So if you get sick can you join your palms to the leader of the practice asking if you can rest? No, you can’t. If you ask nobody will dare to give you permission to rest if you are sick. You have to ask me, but I cannot give you permission. So if you are sick, what do you have to do? You just have to continue the retreat, you just have to do the sitting, whether you are alive, whether you are dead, whether you are sick. You have to keep sitting. So it’s okay if you die in this retreat, then we will take you out and bury you. That is the best way to resolve your sickness. So if you are sick you have to sit, you have to look deeply. If you die we will just have to put you in the coffin and leave you there until the end of the retreat and then we’ll go to bury you. You’re not allowed to smile, you’re not allowed to turn your head and look at someone else at any moment. What is more, during this time of retreat, whatever you are doing, whether you are going to the toilet or anything else, you cannot look at anyone, you cannot smile. If you do this you'll have to be beaten by the master of discipline, and if you are beaten many times then you may die, and then we will leave you until the retreat is finished and then we will bury you. Because if you are beaten you die during the retreat, we won’t have time to bury you. In past retreats people have died. So I will say that if you are very sick, and you feel that you are going to die, you cannot ask to rest. If you die, we will just leave you to lie there until the end of the retreat and then we will bury you. If you want to go out you have to ask permission of the leader of the discipline, and even if you have to go to the toilet we cannot let you go out of the meditation hall because nobody will open the door for you until the session is finished. So you have to understand there is nothing more to do than to go beyond birth and death."

So that is the introduction to the retreat. The monks practiced all year around, and when they entered the retreat only then could they hope to have a breakthrough. The master says if we put all our mind into resolving the koan, then we don’t need to go to the toilet, we cannot get sick, the only thing that is important is to give our mind to the koan.

At the beginning of our winter retreat, on the twenty-sixth of the eleventh month, I sent a message to the sangha of the four hamlets. Here is the letter to my disciples in the four hamlets:

"My Dear Disciples,

Now we have one more opportunity to live together, and be happy together, in the winter retreat, 1997-1998, to practice every day together for a whole month. We should be deeply aware of this happiness, and treasure it, knowing that it is not only our personal happiness, but also the happiness of hundreds of thousands of people who take refuge in our Sangha. Because of the presence of Chan Duc and Phap An in the Maple Forest Monastery, thanks to methods of communication which we have, we can also practice there in a very close way with Thay and the other members of the sangha. This morning, the twenty-sixth of November, on the first day of the retreat, the ceremony will be performed here and by Su Co Chan Duc in the Maple Forest Monastery. So we hope that during this retreat we will be able to make progress. And if anybody has anything they need to ask, or to share, please write directly to me, and I will listen deeply and do my best to find a way to resolve the difficulty. We rely on the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas to protect us during this retreat".

When we read these two different introductions to a retreat it is not to make a comparison, but to show that every teacher, is different and every teacher has compassion. If you hear the teachings of Master Lai Qua and you think that he doesn’t have compassion you are wrong. He has a lot of compassion, it is just that his method is different. He sees that this is the only opportunity for the monks who have come, and if they are lazy during that time then it will be lost. So he wants them to put all their heart into the practice, and although what he says sounds very harsh, there is compassion in it, so don’t think there is no compassion and love in his words. There is as much compassion in his words as there is in the letter that I wrote. The only thing is that our method of practice is different, because our method of practice here is the practice of dwelling happily in the present moment. Sometimes I think that I should invite Master Lai Qua to come here to help me a couple of days. And maybe he should invite me to go there for a couple of days. Father needs mother, and mother needs father. And that is why I tell you this, in order for us to be aware that although our two methods are different, the aim is still the heart of great compassion.

Today we are about to close our winter retreat, and tomorrow, according to tradition, we will have the ceremony of Invitation. After this we will stand up and recite the name of the Bodhisattvas, in order to show our gratitude to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who have given us their protection for the whole of this winter retreat. I will leave these introductory words of Master Lai Qua behind for you to re-read. You can post them in the Upper Hamlet, the Lower Hamlet and the New Hamlet.